From the Earth to the Moon
This article is part one of a five part series about going back to the Moon with the Google Lunar X PRIZE by Nathan Wong
“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Well in the case of the Google Lunar X PRIZE it is both. Building systems that can operate on the Moon is a difficult task, but so is the task of getting a payload to the lunar surface safely. There have been 19 successful soft landings on the Moon, from Luna 9 on January 31, 1966 to Luna 24 on August 14, 1976, including the Apollo missions. The Apollo missions used the largest launch vehicle ever successfully launched, the Saturn V, to land its payload on the Moon. The Saturn V weighed 2.3 million kg (5 million lbs.) with a payload capacity of approximately 45,000 kg (100,000 lbs.) to lunar injection orbit. The teams competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE won’t need that large of a rocket to get their vehicle to the lunar surface, but the steps on how to get there are the similar.
We can break down the journey to the Moon into five distinct events that all need to happen successfully. Those events are the launch, trans lunar injection, lunar orbit insertion, lunar descent orbit, and landing.